Google turns 25 today. It has a surprisingly benign public image. Google describes its mission as:
“Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”1
Forgotten or ignored is that Google (part of the holding company Alphabet, Inc.) is just a giant advertising machine. Its search algorithms are designed to generate advertising revenue. A whole industry is devoted to making stuff on the internet attractive to Google’s search machines. Whole new fields of work have developed. Think attention engineers. or
- Behavioral engineer
- User experience designer
- Conversion rate optimization (CRO) specialist
- Information architect
- User interface (UI) designer
- User experience (UX) researcher
- Data scientist
- Market researcher
- Nudging specialist
- Persuasive technologist2
Google is the dominant member of the triumvirate that controls 63% of all internet advertising(Google: 40%, Facebook: 18%, Amazon: 7%). If you look at total advertising spending in the US the situation is more concentrated with Google at 29%, Facebook at 24% and Amazon at 11%.3
But Google’s impact on the Web goes way beyond these facts about advertising. One could comment on the fact that internet advertising has almost completely destroyed local journalism. Not only has the local newspaper on paper disappeared. There is no replacement for local coverage of local government and community goings on.
More pernicious perhaps is that Google shapes the information available on the web. Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter (now X) all reward the brief, the catchy, the outrageous, anything that garners eyeballs and neurons for advertising. This has shaped a lot of the information on the web. Longer, analytical, exploratory, creative work is deprecated, if not entirely ignored.
Google’s mission really needs to be rewritten:
“Our mission is to shape the world’s information and make it universally available to attract attention and advertisers.”
BTW – like most companies in highly concentrated (monopolized) markets Google (Alphabet, Inc) generates so much profit that it cannot find enough useful investments to consume the profits. So, they have engaged in stock buybacks.4
“Alphabet Inc. has spent a total of $118.3 billion on stock buybacks and dividends as of March 8, 2023. In April 2023, Alphabet announced a $70 billion stock buyback program. This is the largest stock buyback program in Alphabet’s history. The company has already repurchased $15 billion of its own shares under this program.”5
- from Google About page.
- list from Google’s Bard answer machine, competitor to ChatGPT in the AI sphere, in response to this prompt: “what are other words for attention engineer?”
- all data comes from Bard
- A stock buyback is the repurchase by a company of its own shares. This reduces the number of shares in circulation and drives share prices up. Until 1982, stock buybacks were illegal. Seen as stock price manipulation. Since the Reagan administration legalized them, the scale is staggering, “The 465 companies in the S&P 500 Index in January 2019 that were publicly listed between 2009 and 2018 spent, over that decade, $4.3 trillion on buybacks,…” (William Lazonick, Mustafa Erdem Sakinç, and Matt Hopkins, “Why Stock Buybacks Are Dangerous for the Economy,” Harvard Business Review, January 7, 2020, https://hbr.org/2020/01/why-stock-buybacks-are-dangerous-for-the-economy.) A further benefit to the companies and their shareholders is that the cost of stock buybacks is a business expense so no corporate income taxes need to be paid.
- source:Bard: prompt: “How much has Alphabet, Inc spent on stock buybacks?”